Tyler 's Reviews > Confessions of an English Opium Eater

Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas de Quincey
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Jul 21, 09

bookshelves: 19th-century, the-worst
Recommended for: Nobody
Read in June, 2009

If I published under my own name a book that was this bad, I’d fall through the floor for shame. With fewer than 20 pages drearily sketching the use of opium, what’s left is a mind-numbing autobiography of atrocious prose in service to pathological vanity. How does this writer get away with it?

The structure is a disaster. A footnote on one page tells about the family name Quincey; that footnote refers readers to an appendix; that appendix has yet more footnotes, all devoted to the name. Other footnotes take up over a page, and I couldn’t turn even three pages without running into a footnote of some length.

Similar discontinuity sends readers down many blind alleys. The chapter titles have nothing to do with the content, and the text in places is indexed with numbers which even break down into Roman numerals – all to make inconsequential points.

De Quincey mounts a defense in the first pages against the poet Coleridge. A fellow opium addict, Coleridge had apparently attacked De Quincey’s use of opium as being improper. This lively dustup gives the book some historical cachet, but it also reminds me of two alcoholics arguing over who’s drunk. After that, the opaque perspective yields no clue what the author was actually like.

Thickly overwritten prose flummoxes readers. The author brandishes verbose, circuitous sentences studded with Latin and Greek, the latter in its own alphabet. So esoteric is his writing that at times I simply had no idea what the author was getting at; at other times I had no idea what he just said.

More grating still is the silly affectation. The author in places addresses people and things in the second person using thee and thou, as if his puerile personal cares call for poetic license. In other places, his prodigious recollections pass off ersatz sentiment as something authentic. The tedious, self-absorbed content ultimately goes on to chronicle every aching hangnail this crazy fool ever had.

De Quincey’s main goal seems to be to twist language into a pretzel. It’s a matter of indifference to him whether he actually communicates anything to his readers. I consider as a result that readers should treat this book with a similar indifference.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Bill Bruns The structure is a disaster? What structure! I can definitely understand why one would be frustrated by De Quincy's writing if you are expecting a coherent narrative. These essays are attempts to describe the dream state of a chronic opium abuser, something which De Quincy freely admits is beyond the bounds of any language. De Quincy does sometimes needlessly insert Greek in text and he often drifts into overly sentimental territory. The former complaint is justified and intrusive, but the overbearing sentimentality found in these essays is part and parcel of De Quincy's vision. Opium brings forth haunting glimpses of the narrator's past and these comprise the bulk of this compilation.


message 2: by Maya (new) - rated it 1 star

Maya Woloszyn It is the worst drug book ever written by the most snivelling moron that ever existed. I love that you also hate it.


Tyler No doubt. This book is just awful.


message 4: by Ev (new) - rated it 1 star

Ev I couldn't possibly agree more. And I so wanted to like this book, too.


Tyler Thanks -- I also went into the book really wanting to like it, but I couldn't find anything to redeem this sort of prose.


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